Rob Herring can keep Ulster Rugby on the charge
With Rory Best on Irish duty from now until after the Guinness Series date with the All Blacks on November 24, Rob Herring will get a chance to show what he can do in his absence.
The first opportunity comes on Saturday evening against the Scarlets in Llanelli.
Understudying an experienced international and much-respected figure within the Ireland and Ulster camps is not easy. Opportunities to start are few and far between – especially in big games.
But with Ulster up to a head of steam as a result of having won each of their past six matches, this weekend's RaboDirect PRO12 clash falls into the big game category, for like each of the other players who will line out in white at Parc y Scarlets, Herring is conscious of the need to keep that run going.
"There is a bit of responsibility on us. As a team we want to keep the ball rolling. That's the most important thing; get the players together and try to play good rugby," Herring said.
Reaching the break with that impressive run extended to seven straight wins is the goal.
"You can't win things at this stage of the season, but keeping the momentum going up to the break would be good," the 23-year-old Cape Town-born but Irish-qualified hooker agreed.
"It will be a better break if we go into it having won the last seven matches and knowing that we're in a good position. That would be a good morale boost for the team, it would lift everyone's spirit."
With hooker Best, loose-head Tom Court and lock Dan Tuohy away with Ireland, and captain Johann Muller also missing from the second row after tearing a calf muscle in last Friday's bonus point win over Cardiff Blues at Ravenhill, Ulster are without four of their first choice front five. Those are big jerseys to fill.
"Scarlets are a good scrummaging side so that's going to be a big challenge," Herring admitted.
The absence of so many players for one reason or another this week, means preparations to counter the threat Simon Easterby's side will pose have been disrupted. On Tuesday, for example, Ulster's scrum-time work-out saw six against six rather than eight against eight forwards.
"We'll scrum again later in the week when some of the boys are back," Herring said matter-of-factly.
No fuss, no complaining; it is what it is so get on with it. Rather than dwell on the negatives, he looks for the positives. To that end he is a big fan of Ulster's scrum supremo, Dungannon-mentored Allen Clarke, the former international hooker whose knowledge of that set-piece once again is proving to be an invaluable asset to his native province.
"He has been big on technique for years now, so that has helped us quite a bit – particularly with having had to adapt to the changes as a result of the new law. I think we're a bit further on than most teams with that," Herring revealed.
He admitted the inconsistent refereeing in that area has created difficulties, though once more he did not make a major issue of that.
"Sometimes there are inconsistent calls and that can be a bit frustrating," he said. "But I think when that happens we've just got to control the things we can and concentrate on our technique.
"You've just got to do what you can and hope that the refs are even in their handling of it.
"The thing you want most is consistency and I think in the last few weeks we have seen more of that from referees and that has been a help."
He rates Saturday's opponents.
"Scarlets are a really good side. They play good rugby and from the look of things they aren't going to have too many missing from their pack, though I think they might be without a few backs," he said.
"I think they'll try to take us up front, but we've got to match that and exceed them there."
Again, no fuss. So make no mistake; Robert William Herring is one firmly grounded young man. Provided Scarlets find that to be the case, too, Ulster know they will be well placed on Saturday night in Llanelli.